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Clinton moves up in polls and money

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Polling in Iowa and New Hampshire, home of the first primary, shows there is still a fairly large portion of likely caucus-goers and voters who have not decided, Mr. Corrado notes. Both Clinton and Obama are well-positioned to vie for that vote. "For at least those two candidates, it becomes a function of what they do with the money, because both will have plenty of it to spend," he says.

Mr. Edwards raised $7 million in the third quarter. Last week he announced he would accept federal matching funds, which will give him enough money to make a credible run in the early states. But by opting into the public system, which Clinton and Obama have not moved to do, Edwards will have to accept restrictions on spending that could hamper him in the general election, should he win the nomination.

Totals for other Democratic candidates showed some may struggle to make it to the Feb. 5 "Super-duper Tuesday" contests, when at least 18 states will hold primaries: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson raised $5.2 million, and reports indicate Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware raised less than $2 million and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut took in $1.5 million. Numbers were unavailable for Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska.

Polls' importance on the rise

Now that the first nominating contests are within shouting distance – expected to take place right after New Year's – polling data will grow in importance, as the media seek to handicap how candidates are doing.

"By the end of December, we'll have a lot of state polls in early states, and they will be significant," says Stephen Wayne, a political scientist at Georgetown University in Washington.

But even then, as the longtime 2004 Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean knows, polls taken a few weeks before caucuses and primaries can be misleading. Mr. Dean, now national Democratic chairman, seemed poised to win the crucial Iowa caucuses, and came in a stunning third place. His campaign crashed after that.

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